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The Weekend Quiz – August 15-16, 2020

Welcome to The Weekend Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention or not to the blog posts that I post. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.

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    Australian labour market improvement moderates before the Stage 4 Victorian storm is about to hit

    The Australian economy continued to recover somewhat as the government eased the strict lockdown on businesses. However, the pace of improvement moderated significantly. The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Labour Force, Australia, July 2020 – released today (August 13, 2020) shows that employment rose by 0.9 per cent, well down on the rate of improvement last month. The participation rate also rose as job opportunities increased, and the labour force change outstripped the employment increase, which meant that unemployment rose by a further 15,700 thousand. More than a million Australian workers are now unemployed, which does not include the 235 thousand that have dropped out of the labour force since March 2020. That means the official unemployment rate of 7.5 per cent continues to underestimate the actual impact given that the labour force is still 235.2 thousand lower than it was in March 2020. Adding those ‘hidden unemployed’ workers back to the underutilisation rate suggests that 21.3 per cent of the available labour supply is not working in one way or another (unemployment, hidden unemployment, and underemployment). Any government that oversees that sort of disaster has failed in their basic responsibilities to society. It must increase its fiscal stimulus and target it towards large-scale job creation. The problem now is that with the Stage 4 lockdowns in Victoria now in place as it deals with the second virus wave, it is almost certain that the August figures will reveal a deterioration. My overall assessment is: (a) The current situation can best still be described as catastrophic; (b) The Australian labour market needs massive fiscal policy intervention targetted at direct job creation; (c) The prior need for a fiscal stimulus of around 2 per cent has changed to a fiscal stimulus requirement of several times that; (d) There is clear room for some serious fiscal policy expansion at present and the Federal government’s attempts to date have been seriously under-whelming; and (e) Any government that oversees that sort of disaster has failed in their basic responsibilities to society.

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      Australia’s job recovery stalling and soon to head south again

      I am back into my Wednesday pattern after experimenting or the last 10 weeks with the MMTed Q&A series. Soon there will more video content coming as skills are refined. So today I just report my notes as I analyse the latest Australian Tax Office payroll data – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 25 July 2020 – released yesterday (August 11, 2020) by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Regular readers will know that I have routinely analysed this dataset ever since it first became available in March this year. It uniqueness is that it provides the most recent data upon which an assessment of where the labour market is heading. The monthly labour force data is about two weeks old by the time this data comes out. And the most recent release gives some insights into what the impact of the renewed and severe lockdowns in Victoria (the second largest State economy) has been. The data shows that the jobs recovery has stalled and emphasises the need for more federal fiscal support – but that support does not appear to be forthcoming.

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        Tracing the roots of progressive views on the duty to work – Part 2

        This is the second part in my historical excursion tracing where progressive forces adopted the idea that it was fair and reasonable for individuals who sought income support from the state to contribute to the collective well-being through work if they could. As I noted in Part 1, the series could have easily been sub-titled: How the middle-class Left abandoned the class fundamentals, became obsessed with individualism, and steadily descended into political obscurity, so much so, that the parties they now dominate, are largely unelectable! Somewhere along the way in history, elements of the Left have departed from the collective vision that bound social classes with different interests and education levels into a ‘working class’ force. As identity politics has become a preoccupation of what were traditional working class parties, even the concept of the working class has been subjugated into a ‘social’ class (lowly educated with racist predilections if we consider the Brexit debate, for example) rather than an economic class. And that is why the Left is split and the traditional social democratic parties have become increasingly unable to win elections even though the conservative alternative have been terrible. And part of that new divide is over work – the lack of it, the duty to do it, the vast variations in quality, and all the rest. In Part 2, we see how the duty of work concept permeated progressive elements in the West and allowed the different social classes (in the C. Wright Mills meaning) on the progressive side to bind into a coherent political force. That coherence is now gone and the lower-income workers are in revolt.

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          US labour market rebound moderating – policy support is lacking

          On August 7, 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – July 2020 – which shows that while employment continued to grow, the rebound has moderated. The problem facing the US is that the lack of economic support from the Federal government means that the huge pool of unemployment will take years to reduce and the damage will accumulate. How far the recovery can go depends on two factors, both of which are biased negatively: (a) How many firms have gone broke in the lockdown? (b) Whether the US states will have to reverse their lockdown easing in the face of a rapid escalation of the virus in some of the more populace states. But I do not see appropriate policy responses in place at present. From abroad, it looks like the US government is stepping back when it should be engaging in supporting all incomes and introducing large-scale job creation programs.

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            The Weekend Quiz – August 8-9, 2020 – answers and discussion

            Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

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              The Weekend Quiz – August 8-9, 2020

              Welcome to The Weekend Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention or not to the blog posts that I post. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.

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                Fundamental lack of leadership vision in Australia’s response to the pandemic

                Today, the Prime Minister of Australia indicated that the ‘effective’ unemployment rate in Australia is heading to 13 per cent as a result of the harsh lockdowns that have just begun in Victoria as it reels under a second wave of coronavirus (Source). The effective rate incorporates the official estimate (based on activity tests – search and willingness), the number of workers who have dropped out of the labour force due to a lack of opportunities, and those on wage subsidies who are not working at all. The Stage 4 Melbourne lockdown for the next six weeks will cut GDP by a further 2.5 per cent. While economists fuss about microeconomic losses, the daily output and income losses from the unemployment and underemployment are massive, not to mention the huge personal, family and community losses. A responsible government, which issues its own currency and can procure any productive resources that are idle, would be doing everything it could to ensure these losses do not occur. It is not rocket science. The Federal government could ensure those who are unable to work due to the lockdown maintain their current incomes. The overwhelming impression I am getting as we enter the fourth month of this crisis is that the federal polity in Australia is lost. The scale of the disaster has so confronted the neoliberal DNA of the major parties that they are failing to articulate a coherent and viable short- and medium-term plan to deal with the crisis. The challenge is for the government to abandon its inclination to see a ‘return to surplus’ as a benchmark it aspires to. That mentality is making this disaster a catastrophe. We can do much better.

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                  MMTed Q&A – Episode 10

                  Here is Episode 10 in our weekly MMTed Q&A series. This is the last episode in Season 1. We are experimenting with new formats and will be back later in 2020 with some live shows (if the virus abates). In this episode, I continue my talks with special guest is Warren Mosler. We talked about the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) approach to trade, which confounds a lot of people but is really quite straightforward. And, as usual on a Wednesday, we have some great music.

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                    Tracing the roots of progressive views on the duty to work – Part 1

                    This will be a multi-part series and is part of the new book that Thomas Fazi and I are finalising. The series could have easily been sub-titled: How the middle-class Left abandoned the class fundamentals, became obsessed with individualism, and steadily descended into political obscurity, so much so, that the parties they now dominate, are largely unelectable! Because the discussion largely covers that problem. I have been thinking about why a modern so-called ‘progressive’ position draws a line in the sand about retaining a pernicious unemployment benefits system, which provides below poverty rate payments coupled with a harsh system of work tests, despite there never being enough jobs, and think that a guaranteed employment commitment from government with benefits that allow for a decent life, is somehow offensive. The corollary is that somehow the educated Left think that a duty to contribute to society through work is also offensive and they would rather people who can work be able to have the right to output when they are not prepared to contribute to the production of that output. None of these people would approve of a person walking into their homes and raiding their fridge for food. None would approve of some person taking their expensive racing bike parked outside some cafe while they were inside sipping latte! And yet, they do not seem to seem to appreciate the contradiction, when they also rail against capitalists who access the distribution system without contributing to the generation of output. It is no wonder that the traditional working class find the modern ‘Left manifesto’ repugnant and vote accordingly. This is Part 1 of an extended discussion that is the product of some months of research (work!).

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